On Cue, Johnny gives KC plenty to sing about
Starter tosses 2-hit gem, pitches Royals to 2-0 Series lead
KANSAS CITY -- Fans at Kauffman Stadium took Wednesday night's 7-1 victory over the Mets in Game 2 of the World Series to demonstrate that Johnny Cueto's name can be bellowed in honor, not mockery.
Cueto's complete-game two-hitter that lifted the Royals to a 2-0 Series lead (Game 3, Friday on FOX, air time at 7:30 p.m. ET, game time at 8 p.m.) came on his home turf, where he has given up just one run in his last 15 innings and has earned the dutiful praises of the faithful.
The crowd heaped upon him an impressive mix of rhythms -- a hard, "cway-TOH" chant, mixed with a rangy croon of, "Johnny Cueto." Considering that he held the Astros to two runs in eight innings in Game 5 of the American League Division Series, and followed it up with his gem Wednesday, various Cueto tunes easily could rise to the top of the pop charts in Kansas City.
"A lot of pride, a lot of energy I get from our fans," said Cueto, who retired 16 of the last 17 batters he faced and became the first AL pitcher to toss a World Series complete game since the Twins' Jack Morris dominated the Braves for 10 innings of a 1-0 Game 7 victory in 1991. "I feel great when I hear our fans, just supporting me and backing me in these type of situations."
Of course, it's elsewhere that fans sing his name in a way that burns his ears.
In the 2013 Wild Card Game in Pittsburgh, while Cueto was with the Reds, the PNC Park crowd's "CWAAY-toh" sing-song reached Space Shuttle decibel levels, and the Pirates romped. In the midst of the serenade, he dropped the ball on the mound, then gave up a key home run to Russell Martin on the next pitch.
This year in the AL Championship Series, the Rogers Centre crowd in Toronto made the same taunt the soundtrack behind Cueto's struggling performance in Game 3.
The road struggles raised a question: Did Royals manager Ned Yost schedule him for Game 2 to keep him from pitching on the road? But if the Royals acquired Cueto from the Reds before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline to help push them to the world championship that they fell a game short of last year, they find it logical to pitch him where he's most comfortable.
"Every team in baseball wanted this guy at the Deadline for a reason," Royals pitching coach Dave Eiland said. "Tonight we saw why."
Cueto struck out four and walked three and was never hit hard. He threw 122 pitches and was still going long after the Mets' ballyhooed Jacob deGrom threw his 94 pitches in five innings.
The Mets' fourth-inning run came after two walks and Lucas Duda's two-out, looping RBI single to left. Cueto attacked the lower strike zone early before working the corners.
Catcher Salvador Perez helped by setting up low -- on one knee with the opposite leg stretched sideways. It's a strategy Cueto requested after a five-game slump (9.75 ERA). Cueto can hit any target, so the exact height of the glove is his visual guide.
"That's my plan," Cueto said. "He's a big boy. I told him, 'Please, keep me down.' And I made sure to throw the ball where he asked me to throw it, down."
Pitches weren't all Cueto kept down. He kept a bullpen taxed by a 14-inning Royals victory in Game 1 from having to work. Now one of the best relief staffs in baseball will go into Friday night's Game 3 with two full days' rest.
"What [Cueto] did tonight was amazing -- now the bullpen has rest after the long game yesterday," Perez said.
In that tangible way, Cueto's performance could ring harmoniously well beyond Wednesday.